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high places

Just back from a trip to Anjanisain, a little hamlet high in the mountains (6,000 feet), where two of my friends are working. Picture a full moon hike to see sunrise over the snow-capped Himalaya. Or how about a nearly-full-moon run followed by a dawn hike? Yep, I was in my element and so thankful to feel free to be me with my friends.

Shameless Propaganda in the Indian Himalayas
as seen posted on roadside signage
“License to drive, not to fly”
“If you are married, divorce speed”
“Mountains are a pleasure if you drive with leisure”
“Speed thrills but often kills”
“Caution and care make accidents rare”
“Start early, drive slowly, arrive on time”
“Clean toilet, 100m”
“Overtake with caution and care”
“Better late than never”
“On the bend, go slow friend”
“In case slide road block, please call at :”)(!@#$%^”
Life is a journey. Complete it.”
“Slide area ahead. Drive cautiously.”
“Be slow on curve”
“No race. No rally. Enjoy the beauty of the valley.”
“Help the accident victim”
“Hurry makes worry”
“Safety saves”
“Twenty-one. Tough one” (I don’t understand that one)
“Do not overspeed”
“Mind your speed”

And a phrase on a Gold Bond-like product that made me laugh: “dhobi itch”


As promised, I have stories with which to regale you. I’m writing from a sugar-induced stupor, polishing off the box of sweets I received from an all-too generous wife of the Director of the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP). You see, Diwali is the celebration of lights but it might as well be the celebration of all things sweet.
Sweet Stop One: We began the Diwali Bonanza Friday afternoon, stopping at my friend’s aunt’s home where the uncle shared his philosophy on the Father and love and logos and love and the Son and Father are one and love. By the way, he’s Hindu.
Sweet Stop Two: My friend, his wife, his son, his brother, his sister-in-law, his nephew, and I descended on the home of the Director of the GHNP. Apparently the Director and his wife do not practice any religion and do not celebrate Diwali. I think the wife grimaced at the thought of providing sweets, juice, and chai to the entire lot but she dutifully set about her service and was a gracious hostess.
Sweet Stop Three: I stayed in the car while we stopped at my friend’s uncle-in-law’s place and avoided a certain sugar overdose.

Intermission: Puja: I followed the goddess Lakshmi’s painted footprints up the stairs to the patriarch’s bedroom and watched the family offer rupees, sweets, rice, and devotion before a neon Shiva, requesting Lakshmi’s financial provision. We went from room to room, placing candles to guide Lakshmi to the home.

Sweet Stop Four: We waddled down the road to the grand patriarch’s home, a 92 year young man that lights up every time we meet. I also met a holy man that walked across a mountain range to be in Kullu for Diwali.
Sweet Stop Five: After a terrific show of firepower in which the pyro in me made its Indian debut, we had dinner and a final dose of the sweetest white, round balls you can imagine. And I ask myself how I could possibly be eating more sweets as I type!

There are a few other tales left to tell. Panki and I were taking a motorcycle ride high above the Beas River and passed a sadhu (holy man). Panki told me that the man has held his hand clenched in a fist above his head for years so that his fingers have atrophied and his long nails curl.
On our way to meet the former Director of the GHNP, Ankit and I came across a traditional wedding celebration. While the women surrounded the bride, the men of the village, in traditional dress, danced circles around a band playing long horns and drums that resounded across the mountainous terrain.
I figured the day after Diwali, a Saturday, would be a good time to return home, avoiding the crowds traveling home on Sunday. Apparently someone leaked my good idea to the masses. I had to take three buses to get home and ended up standing for 3 hours of the 7 hour journey due to lack of seats. Every the optimist, I was glad to at least be on a bus with a tall ceiling so I had enough headroom.I returned home to find a large, boldly colored banner over the end of my street, marking a marriage celebration. The tell-tale tent was being erected outside the house as I passed by. If you haven’t guessed it, this is the marriage season in India. I counted no fewer than 5 weddings on my daily jaunt. A loud band, food, and gaiety marked the day of the marriage down the street. The following day, as I was preparing to leave for the local University, I heard wailing. As I turned onto my road, the sobs became louder. Then I realized my un-auspicious timing – the bride was in the car, preparing to leave her family forever. She would no longer be part of their family and now was forever joined to her husband’s family. All the attendees gathered around the car, blocking the entire road. The family crowded into the car to bade final farewells and comfort the distraught bride. I am told this wailing is expected, dare I say required, to express how much the bride will miss her family. Regardless, in its final moments it resembled a funeral more than a wedding (in my oh-so humble opinion). What fun stories to re-tell!

bought with a price

sorry, no pic's yet. once i get back to palampur i'll post some. i'm seven hours away in kullu, visiting friends from last year's trek in the Great Himalayan National Park. let me set the scene for you - picture rugged hillsides so high that the sun sets at 12:30pm. the rushing river at the bottom of the valley is lower than it's ever been before due to climatic change. cacti grow beside the road and apples fall in abundance. the women wear scarves tied around their heads and men cover their heads with traditional himachali topee. there is a bite in the air as winter encroaches and people bundle up in the warm, beautiful shawls for which the area is known. i'm currently sipping an ayurvedic (naturopathic) tea to combat the cold resulting from this dip of the thermometer.
tomorrow heralds diwali, the Indian festival of lights. last night i got my first, up close look at a couple of the fireworks popular at diwali. i recalled the evening prerna sat me down and drew pictures of the 10+ different kinds of fireworks, each with a unique name. diwali is a day filled with sweets, puja (offerings to gods), & fireworks - quite the celebration. look forward to my post-diwali update next week.